Best Career Advice for Women in IT

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Following an engaging roundtable discussion during the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference, members of the Women in IT Community Group continued the conversation online, sharing the best piece of advice that had helped them advance in their careers.

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Credit: kmlmtz66 / © 2020

At last year's EDUCAUSE Annual Conference, I participated in a fantastic roundtable discussion with the EDUCAUSE Women in IT Community Group. The opportunity to talk face-to-face with a large group of female IT peers who have such a broad diversity of experience levels, skills, job titles, and commitment to technology is rare. The conversations were lively and authentic, leaving me with a refreshed spirit. Interestingly, the topic that garnered the most discussion was how to increase the substance of posts on the Women in IT electronic discussion board so that it evolves from a place where members share their job postings to a forum where members can continue the conversations—and momentum—from the annual conference roundtable session.

As EDUCAUSE reports, while women make up nearly half of the global workforce, we represent only 38 percent of the higher education IT workforce. That number declines to 23 percent for CIO positions.1 Because of these numbers, the value of meaningful conversations among women in IT is even more important.

As I thought about the power of human connections and how these connections create opportunities to reflect on experiences that give us a sense of self, I remembered the individuals who helped me get to where I am today in my career and how their advice helped me to become the employee I am today. Inspired by the Community Group conversation, I became curious to learn what career advice others had found to be transformative and if there was a common theme. I wanted to discover if there was advice that I could use to enhance my career experience as I enter my second act, and more importantly, I wanted to discover if there was a technique that I could share with others who are looking to make a positive impact on someone else's career. With that in mind, I posted the following question to the Women in IT Community Group discussion board:

What is the best piece of advice you ever received regarding your career/opportunities to help you achieve the position you are in now?

The conversations and contributions over the next twelve hours were phenomenal. More than fifty-four pieces of advice were contributed, with women across the country adding their thoughts! Some spoke about formal mentor-mentee relationships, while others—who did not have a formal mentor—reflected on a more informal approach in which they observed those who modeled the behaviors that complemented their own personal principles and values. As the conversation unfolded, a common theme arose: Recognize your own contributions.

The male peers in the group also discussed the importance of having unbiased perceptions, presence, and tone—all things that they mindfully redirect when they realize they are not advocating for their female peers. The candor of these responses provided balance to the conversation, but this input also served as a reminder to the women in the group that we have a responsibility for our own career success. Therefore, as much as women need to seek out our male peer allies, we also need to be aware of the perceptions we create among our female and male colleagues. Creating positive perceptions includes being confident in both tone and posture when listening and speaking, becoming actively engaged with the profession, promoting our contributions, and, what appeared to be most important to all respondents, understanding that there is no need to prove "everything you know" when responding to talking points from colleagues.

The following advice was shared through the email list:

Be Confident

  • You deserve a seat at the table. "Try to get to meetings early to choose a seat that has optimal eye contact with the highest-ranking person in the room." Amy Lanier, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
  • "Keep doing what you're doing. It never seemed good enough to me though, because I always thought there should be more to it than that . . . . As I've gotten older and grown in my career, I know now it was about recognizing my self-worth and learning to be confident in what I do." Cassie Lott, Elon University
  • "Know who you are, and be true to that." Seema Ahuja, University of California, Merced

Be Actively Engaged and Promote Your Contributions

  • "Observing other colleagues who embody the principles and values they believe in, modeling the behavior that they prescribe to others, and succeeding—and most importantly, help others succeed. Their experience has been the best advice for me." Ka-Wing Tam, University of Pennsylvania
  • "Recognize your own worth. If you want to work on a project, speak up. If you want to lead a team, say so. No one will appreciate your contributions until you appreciate them yourself." Susan Schwerdt, Rutgers University
  • IT professionals who also are parents should add variety to conversations to ensure that their conversations are not centered only around their children and their children's activities. "I tried to limit talking endlessly about my kids. I found that by . . . focusing more on the topics at hand during the meetings, I came to be viewed as a respected subject matter expert instead of as a woman who focuses more on home life than work responsibilities." Melissa Jackman, Duquesne University

Be Aware

  • "It's more powerful and positive to be an active listener and contribute as needed." Anonymous
  • "Sometimes it is not what you say but how you say it and when." Seema Ahuja, University of California, Merced
  • "Perception is reality." Becky Klein, Drake University

I thought about why this question had generated such a strong response, and I realized that the "power" of human connection is the ability to create experiences that are relevant and meaningful to both the mentor and the mentee. If you have the opportunity, reach out to the people who gave you your best career advice and tell them the difference you feel they've made in your professional development.

For more information about enhancing your skills as a higher education IT manager and leader, please visit the EDUCAUSE Review Professional Development Commons blog as well as the EDUCAUSE Career Development page.

The PD Commons blog encourages submissions. Please submit your ideas to [email protected].


  1. D. Christopher Brooks, Joseph Galanek, Dana C. Gierdowski, and Mark McCormack, The Higher Education IT Workforce Landscape, 2019, research report (Louisville, CO: ECAR, February 2019).

Teri Abbo is Director of the IT Services Alliance team at Oakland University.

© 2020 Teri Abbo. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY 4.0 International License.